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Easing the Effects of Mental Illness with BJJ

Easing the Effects of Mental Illness with BJJ


Adeline Quackenbush recently published an article in The Mighty on how her BJJ practice helps her deal with the effects of mental illness.

It’s important to note that Quackenbush is not saying that BJJ is a cure for mental illness.  And anyone who suspects that they might be affected by mental illness should speak with a healthcare professional.

That being said, Quackenbush identifies four ways that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu helps her manage her condition.

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First, Quackenbush notes that, like all exercise, the physical exertion involved in Jiu Jitsu can have profound effects on the brain.  In particular, the release of endorphins can have an almost narcotic effect.

Second, Quackenbush points out that the physical contact involved in rolling or drilling is important in a world where our limited physical contact with others can leave us feeling isolated.  Studies have shown that orphaned babies who are never held by caregivers often develop mental and social disorders. But BJJ is definitely a contact sport and can prevent that sense of isolation.

Quackenbush next emphasizes the way that BJJ teaches humility.  Humility requires perspective, and often, people who suffer with mental illnesses get locked into a distorted viewpoint that alters their approach to the world.  But, as we win some and lose some, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu forces us to recognize that the world is larger than our self-centered perspective.

Plus, as Quackenbush admits, “there is also some power that comes from having something tangible to submit to and learn from and improve upon when it feels like you are constantly fighting forces that are invisible.

Finally, Quackenbush admits that BJJ taught her that there is no silver bullet.  This lesson applies to both BJJ and mental illness. There is no submission or technique that will work on every opponent.  Sometimes, they defend against the submission successfully. Sometimes, body type prevents our success with a technique. Instead, the wise Jiu Jitero will have a variety of techniques at their disposal and will move from one to the next as necessary.  Similarly, there is no single pill or treatment that will make mental illness suddenly and magically disappear. It takes a variety of treatment types. “[T]here are no quick fixes, only hard work and trial and error.”

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